(Editor Note: Good gosh! Did it ever take a long time to finish this article, I had originally started writing this before I wrote and published the piece about being optimistic and positive during Covid-19. Then unexpected things after unexpected things followed by expected things to be topped by the fates conspiring against me, the writing of the mini-reviews got dragged out over weeks rather than the intended hours. Welcome to the adjustment period of the new normal with everyone home all the time and home schooling becoming a new priority. I had envisioned this as my piece to launch the new and improved pop culture and entertainment churning machine that I had intended this blog to be while everyone was shut in. The intention remains alive even if the start date arrived much later than I had intended. It gets much better from here.)
It looks like it will be several months before I see another movie in theatres (I'm going to be feeling the withdrawal soon though - ED: Feeling it already). This also means that 2020 will probably have the least amount of new releases that I see in a year since I started reviewing movies professionally in 2012. But before we've all become hermits, I did see a fair amount of 2020 new releases. It looks like in the coming days that most of these movies will become available for rental (ED: Yep, they have) and a few due to being Netflix Originals already can be streamed. I do intend to still review a lot of movies this year, either pictures from the past or new releases that will be available at home. For now. as a guide to help you out for what you may want to see while stuck at home, I will rank from least favourite to favourite all the movies that I've seen this year along with mini reviews. Also, for reference sake, I provided the links to The Movie Breakdown episodes where each specific movie was originally reviewed.
20. A Fall from Grace (*): A women named Grace is on trial for the murder of her husband. Get it? The title has a double meaning. Isn't it so smart? No. it isn't. Instead, it is right behind The Fanatic as one of the most mind-numbingly dumb movies that I've endured in recent years. The highlight is the absolutely batshit insane and baffling ending that makes you think the police force had some rather huge missing person crimes they should have been investigating rather than a murder case with no body. The whole crime and how it gets pulled off makes less and less sense with each scene. The acting and production design would be rivaled by a grade three stage production being presented in the teacher's backyard. I now know why I've been avoiding Tyler Perry directed movies all these years.
19. The Last Thing He Wanted (*): There were many who were upset when Dee Rees' Mudbound missed a Best Picture nomination for the 2018 Oscars, but my guess is those same people won't have any indignation over award omissions for this messy and incomprehensible follow-up. I can tell you the broad synopsis of the plot where a career-focus journalist during the 1984 U.S. Presidential election helps her father by going down to Central America to look over a gun smuggling operation that then all goes to shit. This movie sure does go to shit quick with character motivations that make no sense, twists that don't connect with the plot and some of the most horrendous dialogue. It is a muddled stew of very talented people making a non-sensical thriller.
18. The Grudge (*): I already wrote a review for this mean-spirited and pointless sidequel. As I said in my original review, this gory and bleak picture is exactly what people who hate horror wrongfully believe most of the genre is like.
17. Spenser Confidential (*½): I don't like this movie, bro. I've recommended many of the Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg team-ups but Mile 22 was a generic and angry slog and now the crap streak extends with this unfunny buddy thriller where the usually fun Wahlberg is grating and a talent like Alan Arkin is equally irritating. The attempted jokes clunk like bricks off the head and the plot is a muddled mess of being by-the-number but nonsensical.
16. Live Twice, Love Once (**): The idea of a brilliant man trying to find his lost love before his dementia and Alzheimer's takes over is a terrific idea for a movie. But this supposed dramedy is undone by sitcom clichés and incredibly unlikable characters who pile on the irritating actions.
15. All the Freckles in the World (**): The concept for this coming-of-age tale is cute enough with a new kid at school trying to impress his crush by entering the big soccer tournament and he has to put together a ragtag group of outcasts to field a team. The biggest problem is the lead isn't as adorable as the movie thinks and he's actual an asshole that never redeems himself. The movie is also bogged down by a bunch of unnecessary subplots that don't go anywhere like the distant relationship between the boy and his commercial pilot dad.
14. The Hunt (**): I'm a huge fan of Richard Connell's classic short story The Most Dangerous Game, and so I'm always a sucker for when a movie tackles the concept of a person trying to survive being hunted by an 'elite'. This version is also trying to say something about the divide between conservatives and liberals, the toxicity that thrives on the internet and how easy one can be lured in by hate-filled conspiracy theories. While I applaud the ambition, it doesn't explore any of the ideas in an effective manner. The social satire aspect lacks any biting humour and feels like it settles for the easy and obvious jokes. The characters never rise above caricature even though Betty Gilpin delivers an amazing performance that carries the movie to watchable. The action sequences and violence are well constructed, but there are no stakes since we couldn't care less about those involved and the villains are immensely uninteresting. The most notable thing about this movie will be the controversy about it back in the fall with a bunch of people who had not seen it yet were really upset about it, because the internet will explode if we don't fuel it with unjustified rage.
13. The Gentlemen (**): Director Guy Ritchie returns to the stylized, humorous, twisty crime caper with a movie that feels like it can fit comfortably alongside his breakout pictures, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. The problem is those movies came out decades ago and makes this one feels a little dated with some jokes that don't fit well today. The movie tries too hard to be smart with its unreliable narrative storytelling, broad humorous characters, sudden twist reveals and meta-references to various things like the state of Hollywood that it causes one to be detached emotionally from the storytelling. Or maybe I am just a grumpy old man that can't appreciate brilliant movies like this anymore.
12. Lost Girls (**½): The based on a true story about a mom who has to aggressively push the police to investigate her missing daughter who is a sex worker and then she learns that many other sex workers have gone missing in the area is an interesting plot with an important message. Filmmaker Liz Garbus explore interesting issues like if the police and our society put more importance on certain people over others and if those in high class communities are given more leeway when it comes to potential crimes. The problem is the director's documentary roots hampers the storytelling as it often feels like a presentation of facts rather than a narrative we can empathize or connect with. The story gets bogged down with expository dialogue and some characters that exist to quickly push the plot along. The film is full of interesting ideas but often feels well-made but hollow when it comes to emotion.
11. All the Bright Places (**½): It's a romantic tearjerker that reminds me of hits from the 1980s that my mom used to gobble up with a box of Kleenex safely by her side. Romantic movies rely most on a believable chemistry between the two leads, and this movie's best part is the interplay between Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. This has many sweet moments and you are rooting for this couple. I also think it has some great visual imagery such as the contrast between the beautiful forest up against the broken-down factories and train tracks that show new beginning against broken pasts. I also appreciate a romance that is willing to dig into mental illness and how strong relationships can help us work through our challenges (but we also need to be willing to be open with that partner to have the full effect). The biggest problem is Smith's character isn't fully fleshed out, and we never get those scenes to explain why a handsome and charismatic teen is considered an outcast, thus the final act loses lots of emotional impact because it doesn't feel earned. I enjoyed a lot of this movie, even if the ending falls flatter than when my daughter is running with her socks dangling off her feet.
10. Bad Boys for Life (**½): I wrote a review for this movie as well. I think fans of this series will love this movie and people like me will think it is a serviceable buddy cop action comedy. When it tries to be emotional and dramatic that it is when it feels the silliest and it is hard to empathize with the over-the-top characters enough to care about their story.
9. Horse Girl (***): I've always been a sucker for movies where we question if the character is going crazy or if what they are saying is reality. Alison Brie plays a very socially awkward girl who even though she is sweet and sincere doesn't have many friends. We then start seeing her life unravel when she starts believing something about herself that is far-fetched and everyone around her believes she is losing her mind. There is enough in the movie where we can believe that this may indeed be a science fiction picture, but there is also enough for us to think this is a story about someone falling apart mentally and emotionally. Brie is amazing as a lead that we really care about but also slowly becomes more panicked and odder. This movie was produced by the Duplass brothers, and it has their dark humour but also suffers from their habit of meandering and losing focus at times. I would also say that the performances and wit is enough to make this one of their stronger entries.
8. Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon (***): Aardman Animations (studios behind Wallace and Gromit) does it again with a beautiful and feel-good stop-motion adventure for the whole family. It has lots of humour and pop culture references that will make adults laugh but the plethora of visual gags will keep the kids entertained. I got the pleasure of watching this with my kids when I was alone with them for a whole weekend and they cheered and laughed the whole way through. The little alien that gets trapped on Earth and needs Shaun's help was an instant favourite in this family and this will be a crowd-pleaser that you can check out right now on Netflix.
7. The Rhythm Section (***): This gritty and brutal revenge thriller did not get a lot of love from critics, but I appreciated the hard-edged story of an average woman who is way-over-her heard trying to become an assassin to avenger her family. Blake Lively is fantastic in a lead role as someone who is always internally struggling with what she must do and often needs to battle her own demon while also going up again living villains. I appreciated that she never becomes a true killing machine like what often happens in movies like this and she constantly makes mistakes or loses her nerve. Director Reed Morano is great at making us constantly feel anxious and making most of the action feel like an uncontrollable free-fall. This isn't a fun ride but a definite hard-edge visceral experience.
6. Sonic the Hedgehog (***): Video game movies don't have a very strong reputation, so it may not mean much when I declare this one of the very best from that subgenre. They often fail because we get movies like Super Mario Bros or Street Fighter where they try to cash-in on the name of a popular game but fail to be faithful to the source or even have any idea of why it was popular. Sonic feels like a movie crafted by fans of the video games with several references and Easter eggs to appeal to those who grew up on the game. More importantly, it is a fun family film that would appeal to those not familiar with the series and just want a light-hearted family adventure picture. Ben Schwartz captures the attitude and charm of Sonic perfectly with his voice work and James Marsden plays off him well as the Sheriff that helps Sonic on his journey to retrieve the golden rings. Jim Carrey is a great villain who totally throws himself into the role and brings the comic timing and mannerisms that made him a superstar in the 1990s. It is a surprisingly funny movie, but it also has a warm and sweet message about the importance of friendship and acceptance. My enjoyment was enhanced by watching it with a very excited Everett who not only ran like Sonic all the way to the movie theatre but declared it one of the greatest movies ever.
5. The Invisible Man (***): The opening is one of the most intense and thrilling starts to a picture and I found myself instantly rooting for Elizabeth Moss' character to get out even if we don't know the character or the situation. The amazing performance and the pacing of the scene causes instant anxiety and gets you invested in the moment. Director Leigh Whannell crafts an incredible technical thriller that is marvellously paced and builds tension throughout with Moss' performance elevating it all. Whannell is also smart in alleviating some tension with moments of humour and then smashing you again with well crafted scares and surprises. It also explores the cycle of abuse and how often we aren't quick to support or believe the victim (who is often the women) and seems like the perfect horror movie for the #MeToo era. Moss proves why she is a renowned actress by showing a vulnerable woman slowly gain more strength and confidence as she is forced to face her tormentor. The big problem is that some of the attempts to set up the message of people not always believing the victim causes some unbelievable stretches in the storytelling. Some characters have ridiculous responses in order to push the story of the invisible abusive boyfriend still controlling and tormenting Moss's character. The plot issues took me out of the movie at points, but it is still on of the most visceral and engaging thrillers in the past year.
4. To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You (***): The original To All the Boys I Loved Before was a delightful surprise and one of the major movies to establish Netflix as the top studio for romantic comedies. (ED: Here on out is what I finally got around to writing today) This movie is a pleasant return visit with characters we've grown to adore and a rare event in romantic comedies, where we get to see the actual relationship grow between our two leads. Lana Condor continues to be adorable as the smart and independent Lara Jean trying to work through her new relationship and Noah Centineo proves he is becoming the king of romantic comedies as he provides both humour and warmth as her boyfriend. We get a love triangle that isn't frustrating, as we can understand the insecurities and challenges, and all three characters remain likable as Jordan Fisher is a welcome addition to the cast. This movie is about more than just the central romantic relationship and spends some time digging into other key relationships. It is a sweet and kind-hearted film that is a pleasant light-hearted snack that many of us need right now.
3. Birds of Prey (***): This is the kind of movie that I feel will age really well, as we get farther away from the toxic crew that was actively rooting against this picture and tried to paint it as a disastrous box office flop (not meeting expectations does not make a failure). Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn was the best part about the dreadful Suicide Squad and this colorful and spastic movie embodies her personality. Director Cathy Yan realizes the tone and style of a movie works best when it mirrors our protagonist, especially when it clarifies everything presented is from Harley Quinn's perspective. The story of an anti-hero torn over if she should protect a young girl from a crew of baddies or betray her isn't new, but the movie is high energy and not afraid to be bonkers at times. Rosie Perez, Elizabeth Mary Winstead, Ella Jay Basco and Jurnee Smollett-Bell not only have great chemistry with Robbie, but each bring a unique personality that adds to the flavour of the movie. I would have liked Winstead and Perez to have more to do, and it is more of a Harley Quinn than Birds of Prey movie. The villains are also a little too broad and their motivations are ill-defined, though Chris Messina seems to be having a blast as the crazy henchmen (Ewan McGregor is purposefully playing it over-the-top, but he seems to be more a symbol of misogyny than an actual character). This is best seen a blood-splattered, profane, adult live-action cartoon.
2. The Way Back (***½): A movie following a well-used formula is not always bad, especially when it feels personal to those involved. Ben Affleck delivers one of his best performances as an alcoholic struggling with the separation from his wife and he then decides to coach an underdog high school basketball team. Affleck seems to be giving a piece of himself into this role and you sense he is working through his own demons and issues with this performance, which makes everything feel so authentic. It also goes in some less obvious directions, as we learn more about the past of Affleck's Jack and while the movie does build towards the big game trope, it handles it in less familiar ways. It is a movie that delves into sadness and loss but also provide hope and inspiration, Yes, I cried. It is an emotional and beautiful movie and the type of story that we don't often to get to see on the big screen anymore. It is worth tracking down, though keep the tissues handy.
1. Onward (***½): I absolutely love the concept of a world of magic changing with the invention of technology with pixies becoming a biker gang and unicorns regressing into feral trash scavengers. It is a touching story with a heavy fantasy bent of two elf brothers going on a quest to find an enchanted stone that will allow their dead father to come back for 24 hours. Well, they do get at least half of their father as the spell doesn't fully work on first try, so we go on the sweeping journey with them to correct the error. Like all classic Pixar, it blends sweeping adventure with sharp witty humour with a touching tale about the importance of family in its different forms. Chris Pratt and Tom Holland are perfect for their roles and have a great chemistry as brothers who love each other even though they are vastly different. I also appreciate that super talents like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer get to play strong female characters who have their own important character arcs. The visuals are gorgeous and creative, and like any great Pixar movie, there are a lot of fun gags and visuals to entertain you in the background. It feels like a fully realized and living world, and it creates real stakes that you can invest and care about. And yes, I cried once again. I am a sucker for any tales about parents and their kids, and this is a strong one with some deep themes. But it is also a great adventure that my kids were cheering and gasping over the entire time. It is now on Disney Plus and it is worth catching if you haven't seen it. Even in a year where the movie theatres didn't shut down in March, it would be a strong contender for one of the best of the year.